eWeek: Is there anyone who feels that tools such as Outlook and the tighter integration of Outlook with other Office applications are making it easier for a multisite work force to work together more readily?
Ramos: Just marginally. Again, I think the Microsoft strategy is you have to jump into the deep end of the pool. A lot of the purported benefits imply that you are on native Active Directory, and I dont think all of us are there yet. Were sort of making incremental benefits, but Im not sure. People that I work with have yet to see the purported Microsoft vision.
eWeek: Is that a perception the rest of you share? That Active Directory is the Kool-Aid you have to drink to make the rest of this stuff even potentially work?
Baradet: If you want Exchange 2000, you have to have Active Directory. It doesnt work without it.
eWeek: Does anyone remember the word "Intellimirror"? Wasnt that going to be one of the silver bullets in Windows 2000, in terms of making it much easier to restore a clients configurations by rolling in a new machine and immediately being able to duplicate all of the user settings and things? Has that been important to anybody yet?
Bronson: Has anybody got it working in their environment?
Baradet: Ive not even gotten around to it. Weve got a new CRM [customer relationship management] system coming up, and, between that and patching and the day-to-day support, we just havent had time.
eWeek: One of the issues thats been surrounding XP is the more or less simultaneous transition by Microsoft to a new licensing model. The model seems to put a tremendous amount of pressure on corporate sites to upgrade rapidly on Microsofts timetable or face much higher prices for doing so at a more deliberate pace. Have you had an opportunity to look at these licensing proposals and to decide how you plan to respond?
Calabrese: I dont think its so much the licensing thats causing us the issues. One of the reasons were looking at XP is that we cant afford to be running an operating system or an application that Microsoft no longer supports. So, with every new release from Microsoft, Ive got to also think, "Is this part of my strategy, to get off an older version that some time further down in the future wont be supported?" I need to start migrating or planning to migrate to XP because theres declining support in the very near future for Windows NT 4.
eWeek: Is that a calculation that some of the rest of you have also made?
Baradet: Were starting to think about what were going to do. We have a select license program for the university, which I think is up next June. We have until the end of next February to decide if were going to go with the upgrade advantage and software assurance fees.
eWeek: Some of you have made reference to feeling that, whatever your issues with Microsoft might be, that youre kind of entangled in the interlocking relationships of all of the third-party software that is only on the Windows platform. Are any of you actively exploring a dramatic change to Linux on servers, Linux on desktops, any other alternative architectures? Or to a substantial shift to reliance on another technology provider?
Ramos: I think were caught between a rock and a hard place. Our enterprise systems now are so complex that the technologies vendors we embrace are, in essence, what we have to follow. Everyone is tied into the whole Windows platform.
At least for the next couple of years, we see that as the dominant force. Like I said, the applications are so complex—in our case, in health care—we need a robust stance and a reliability thats so high that we cant afford to experiment.
Bronson: I see a lot more individuals and small businesses making those changeovers.
Curcuru: Ive attempted to download StarOffice 6.0 [beta], but only to look at it. I dont have the resources or the time to seriously roll it out. I just want to look at it and see if it will be an option, if it gets solid enough, one or two years down the road.
eWeek: We havent yet talked a lot about hardware. What most needs attention over, say, the next six to 12 months?
Bronson: Were looking hard at bringing in a SAN [storage area network] right now. Thats one of the things thats a priority for us as a newer technology we havent deployed before.
Baradet: Were starting to think that tape backup is not going to cut it anymore, even with DLT [digital linear tape] and tape libraries, because the amount of time we have in the evening hours to back up systems is shrinking.
Disk is getting cheaper and an awful lot faster than tape is. One of the things that Im going to be thinking hard about is maybe a storage area network in doing disk-to-disk backup, and then, for very critical stuff, disk-to-tape off the SAN device during the day.
eWeek: It doesnt sound as if anyone is finding their desktop and laptop capabilities to be limiting factors right now. Are you, in fact, perhaps even finding that the machines the vendors want to sell you are faster, bigger and more expensive than what you would buy if you were able to tell them what configurations you wanted them to offer?
Bronson: I just went through the Compaq [Computer Corp.] road map, with their new Evo line. What was interesting is the machines that Ive got coming out to me, Im going to get pretty much at the same price as what Im paying. Normally, I have my little blip up, and then it drops down again. It seems like the newer technology will be priced so that I could literally slide it in and never have that blip up.
eWeek: You feel that the vendors are under tremendous price pressure right now?
Bronson: Yes, I do.
Baradet: Were buying primarily on price point for a type of machine—so many dollars for an administrative desktop, so many dollars for a research desktop. We kind of allocate that and then shop around when we buy the machines to get the most bang for the buck. Recently, it has been Dell [Computer Corp.], and Michael Dell just might be the last man standing.
eWeek: How have your upgrade and purchase patterns changed during the last year or so?
Curcuru: We have spent less money, and I am far less cutting-edge and experimental than I used to be. I used to try almost all of the newest stuff to see if it had value, and Im doing much less of that now.
Bronson: Upgrading is heavily scrutinized—we bring in a new machine, and how we bring it in is how we try to keep it.
Weve done the same with the OS, [which is] not like the core applications that we use to get our job done. Were using AutoCAD or were using other tools, and those are the tools we would look to upgrade. But from an operating system point of view, thats not our driver to upgrade.